Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Movie Review: "TRON: Legacy"

In short, it's not worth the price of admission. If you really want to know why, then by all means read on. I just didn't want you to waste any more time on this movie than necessary.

I mean, don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad movie. It's just that there's nothing good in it. From start to finish, it's as bland and predictable as a Disney movie can possibly be. You probably already know the whole plot already, or else you could make an educated guess.

The acting is wooden and unbelievable, the narrative is riddled with gaping, obvious plot holes, and the villain is laughably destructive, killing underlings and civilians without warning or mercy, even when it would be in his better interests NOT to kill them.

The good guys are equally unlikeable. Kevin Flynn, the protagonist's Zen-Master/Wizard/Hacker father, never expresses any believable remorse for missing out on twenty years of his son's life. That son, Sam, immediately forgives his father upon learning why he disappeared one night when he was seven, never to be heard from again. Hey, no hard feelings, right? We cool? Yeah, we're cool.

The love-interest, Quorra, lacks even a rudimentary pesonality - she alludes to being less patient that her mentor, but this quality is never demonstrated onscreen. I'd call her eye-candy, but it's a kids' movie, so there's not even enough skin to make her any more appealing visually than she is emotionally. But this doesn't stop Sam from falling for her the moment she bursts right into the Games Arena in a transforming off-road vehicle (no joke!) to save his sorry ass, even though she's never seen him before.

It might, might, be worth the price of admission, if you're:
A) a kid under the age of eight,
B) a CGI-fanatic, or
C) such an enormous fan of the franchise that it's starting to damage your social life.
If none of these terms could be applied to you, then just save your money.

ADDENDUM: There was one bit that I thought was clever. When Sam and Quorra go to the dance club (yes, really!), the event is DJ-ed by two helmeted men who look suspiciously like an homage to the French techno-duo Daft Punk.

... that's it. The only part of the whole movie that was clever or (intentionally) funny.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Review: “The Spiderwick Chronicles, Vol. 2: The Seeing Stone" by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (2003)

In the second entry to the Spiderwick Chronicles, we begin to see a darker, scarier side to the realm of the fae, as well as the darker side of our hero, Jared Grace. In Volume 1, he was largely shy and reserved. In Volume 2, we begin to see the first hints of his anger and rage. He's obviously hurting; his parents are newly divorced, his dad lives on the other side of the continent, and his mother still believes him to be responsible for the dangerous and mean-spirited "pranks" of the brownie-turned-boggart Thimbletack. He's not doing well at school, either. All that frustration and helplessness must (and does) find a release.

After Jared's identical twin brother Simon is spirited away by an invisible band of goblins, Thimbletack tells Jared that he knows a way to help Jared see the fae: his Uncle Arthur's seeing-stone.

Thimbletack leads the boy to the workshop where the stone resides, but refuses to give it to Jared until he makes a promise not to use it improperly, or show it to anyone else, and to return it safely when he's done. Frustrated at the brownie's refusal to cooperate while his brother may be in mortal danger, Jared attacks the little man and takes the stone from him by force, setting in motion a terrible chain of events.

I liked the construction of this book; it's very taut and exciting, with almost no unnecessary elements. Everything leads quickly and precisely to a satisfying conclusion. It's a very satisfying read.

I was a little shocked (in a good way) by the story's brutal honesty; particularly with regards to the fate of Simon's cat. I feel that a lot of authors, particularly those writing for young adults, are afraid to allow characters to fail or come to bad ends. Especially good or innocent characters.

...But I feel that allowing the unfairness and capriciousness of real life to bleed into the text allows for a more powerful effect when the heroes do eventually triumph, because their victory was never guaranteed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: “The Spiderwick Chronicles, Vol. 1: The Field Guide" by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (2003)

I've known of these books for a while now. I saw a boxed set of them on the shelf in my cousins' basement, and read the first chapter of the first book, thought it was good, and decided to check 'em out. Then I promptly forgot to do so.

Fast forward to October 2010. While searching the children's section of the Ypsilanti District Library for books on fairies (for reference, of course!), I came across Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. Each and every creature depicted therein (in beautiful, full-color plates) combined aspects of real-world flora and fauna to create something that was fantastical, and at the same time, believable.

I had to see more. So I began to read the books from which the illustrations were taken.

I've recently completed the first book of the five-volume Young Adult series, The Field Guide. It's a very quick read: I finished it in two bus-rides. The Library of Congress blurb in the front of the book pretty much says it all:

When the Grace children go to stay at their great-aunt Lucinda's worn Victorian house, they discover a field guide to fairies and other creatures and begin to have some unusual experiences.

The illustrations are pen-and-ink, with a pronounced sketchy quality, like the scientific portraits that Darwin or Audubon might have drawn in their journals while observing nature in action. In his dedication, the artist, Tony DiTerlizzi, specifically thanks noted illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), hoping that he may "continue to inspire others as you have me." Rackham is also no doubt the visual inspiration for the titular Arthur Spiderwick, author of the eponymous Field Guide.

I especially liked the illustration on page 42 ("Just chop it."), depicting Mallory, the eldest of the three Grace children, with her hair tied to the bedstead in dozens of tangled braids by a malicious boggart. It's surreal.

I also liked the honesty of the book's depiction of childhood as a time of unfairness and fear. I feel that far too many authors (and people in general) look back on their childhoods through sepia-toned glasses. They forget the fear that accompanied each night in a strange house, the unfair conclusions to which adults often leap, and the powerlessness that a small child feels in relation to school, their older siblings, and their parents.

It's gratifying to see that some people still remember what it was like, being a kid in a grown-up's world.